Your country is actually part of the Netherlands. Can you explain how that works?
Neelam: Curacao, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba and St. Maarten, are a group of islands known as the Netherlands Antilles. We are basically a colony of the Netherlands. “Colony” sometimes has a negative connotation, but it's really not such a bad thing here. The Dutch have a huge influence on our island, but we have our own independent economy and our own government.
What is going on now with Dutch control? What do they want to do?
Neelam: Aruba also used to be part of the Netherlands Antilles, but recently became its own independent colony, so now it does not have a part in the Netherlands Antilles government. The Dutch basically want to have a grasp on the way our island spends its money. We have a lot of debt to pay, especially for a small island with 120,000 people.
The Dutch are suggesting to clear all our debts with the condition that they watch how we spend our money in the future. There is a referendum in May, where citizens will be allowed to vote as to whether or not they want to take the money the Dutch government is offering us, with of course the given conditions.
What do you think should happen?
Neelam: I personally feel that the Dutch would be doing us a huge favor by clearing up the debt. There is no way we could possibly pay that debt off any time soon, especially considering the fact that our economy is based on refining oil, offshore banking, and tourism. Considering the stance of not only the U.S. economy, but the world economy, I think that we definitely should take up the Netherlands on this offer and work to clear up our debt. I also think the conditions set by the Netherlands are very reasonable considering that sometimes we really don't know where our money goes.
This oversight and advising may help government officials make wiser choices as to how we spend our money. Considering our healthcare and education systems have many flaws, and the mere fact that there is always room for improvement, this help from the Netherlands could in fact, help not only our economy, but other parts of our island.
That part of the world is often a place where American go on vacation. What is it like to actually live there? What do young people do for fun?
Neelam: Young people usually go to the beach and to the movies and sometimes go out to clubs for fun. Because the drinking age in Curacao is 18, most children go out around that age. A day at the beach is also pretty normal for younger people here.
What do you think about America? Do you know many Americans? What do your peers think about America and the American government?
Neelam: Well, Curacao is a very diverse community. We have many American passport holders here, but most of them have lived here for quite a while. We also have some American representatives here working for the American Consulate and other Agencies like the FDA and Anti-Drug agencies.
I do know many Americans, but not many in Curacao.
Because one of the only flights out of Curacao is to Miami, most of (my peers) think of America as simply that, really good shopping and a lot of fun, however people do have very strong opinions about the American government because of the television. Most people were not too fond of George W. Bush, but love Obama.
So if you want to leave the island you have to go to Miami? Or do you use boats also?
Neelam: Mostly we go by plane. We recently started getting a flight to Newark airport. But we do have flights to other islands, and to South America, and to the Netherlands of course
What kinds of issues in Latin America or South America are a big deal to you or your peers right now? What do you pay attention to or have strong opinions about?
Neelam: The most touched-on topic would probably be the situation of the U.S. economy, and its impact on the world economy, and also the current situation in Venezuela. However, in my school we also focus on environmental issues and destruction. We recycle and try to save electricity. In Curacao however, drug trafficking is a very big deal. Considering that we fly directly to and from Colombia and to and from the Netherlands, drug trafficking can sometimes pose a threat to people here.
However, the number of imports and exports of drugs has decreased considerably.
What threats do drug trafficking pose to people in Curacao?
Neelam: The availability of drugs first of all, is a huge deal in any country. Drugs are available easily and readily on the streets, although it is not legal. Also, many people used to be involved in the drug trafficking by carrying what we call bolitas (which are basically condoms or any sort of cover filled with drugs that they swallow). Bolitas can be very dangerous because first of all, it is very hard for security to detect them, and second of all, because it is such a big amount of the drug it can kill the person carrying it.
It is also somewhat of an inconvenience because in some ways it ruins our reputation, like it has to Colombia. Some people consider Colombia very dangerous because of its drugs, when really it is a very nice vacation destination.
Drugs aren't made here, but because it is such a small airport and an easy transport point, from the Netherlands or sometimes even Colombia, we get caught up in it.
Also, most of the crimes in Curacao are related to drugs and that sort of stuff, making it very dangerous to live here if you get caught up in the wrong business.
Our crime rate per-capita is high, but overall Curacao is a very safe place to live, unless of course you are involved in those sort of businesses. It's just high because we have such a small population.
Have you seen any impact from the recession in the United States?
Neelam: Well, most of the business people will tell you that business here is very bad. Tourism rates have dropped, not only because of the U.S. economy, but because of its impact on the world economy and the situation in Venezuela. Venezuelans are granted less money in U.S. dollars to travel now, so they come here less and less. About four months ago, Venezuelans used to come here a lot, but now that they have less money available to them, they come less and less.
International companies have closed here, and some people have lost their jobs but nothing as drastic as what is happening now in the States.
So Venezuela is an important part of your economy?
Neelam: For sure. They rent the land where the oil refinery is to refine their oil, so they pay us rent, and because there are direct flights to and from Venezuela, their tourism is very important to us.
Also, Venezuelan sailors make up a floating market here in our city, but since the situation has changed, fewer sailors come here now.
This is a huge tourist attraction because it is beautiful to see, however it also allows the locals to buy fresh cheap vegetables.
Many businesses in Curacao depend on the Venezuelan tourism, especially when selling brand named goods, because they buy it more than the locals do.
What would you want young people in America to know about your country?
Neelam: Well first of all, i would just like them to know it exists! Many people have never heard of Curacao. I think that people should know that we have amazing beaches and beautiful coral reefs, and there is a lot to do and see. We do have some issues, but so does every country in the world, and that they are always welcome to this wonderful island!
What languages do people speak there?
Neelam: Most people speak four languages, and if you're lucky you may come across people who speak even more than that. Dutch is the official language of Curacao, however the language most widely spoken is called Papiamentu. It is a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English.
It was originally spoken by the slaves here, but is now very widely spoken.
Which languages do you speak?
Neelam: I speak English, Papiamentu, Dutch and Spanish. I speak them all quite fluently but not completely flawless.
I went to school in Dutch till I was four, and then transferred to a private English school, so English is probably the best.
If you could ask President Obama and the US government to do one thing, what would it be?
Neelam: Well I think that many people have a very wrong impression of the United States. America's name around the world is definitely not flawless anymore, and some people definitely do not have the same respect for the USA as they once did. As it is the first modern democratic society, I think it is very important that the USA fix this and focus on making things right with countries so, I would want to ask Obama how he plans on changing the image and how people view America in other countries.